Feel-good recipes for dull and depressing weather

Feel-good recipes for dull and depressing weather
For when it’s cold and dark outside, Olia Hercules’ healthy, comforting recipes come to the rescue

When it’s getting colder outside and spring’s lighter evenings are still just out of reach, it can be hard to feel inspired in the kitchen. Warming soups and stews lose their appeal after a while, but it’s also not quite time for the crisp and fresh salads we were enjoying just a few months ago.

These “feel good” recipes created by chef and author Olia Hercules for Maldon Salt are perfect for filling that seasonal gap, while still making the most of winter veg.

Expect relishes, crispy toppings and fermentations to jazz up those dishes you’ve got on repeat, as well stunning side dishes that use up those vegetables you always have left at the end of the week.

Fennel, blood orange and shallot relish

The fennel adds crunch, the orange lends sweetness and acidity, and the shallot gives this relish a mignonette kind of feel. It keeps well in the fridge and is good with so many things including mackerel and pork belly and it would also work well in a sandwich. It is equally good with roast vegetables such as pumpkin, especially if it’s been charred on some coals.

Ingredients:

1 banana shallot

1 fennel bulb

1 blood or regular orange

1 handful of chopped green olives

2 tbsp good-quality vinegar

1 tbsp Maldon salt

1 tbsp honey

A few sprigs of fresh marjoram or oregano

Method

1. Peel and dice the shallot as finely as you can. Cut the fennel in half, then cut it into very thin strips, then across into small dice.

2. Segment an orange by cutting the peel and the pith with a sharp knife, then draw the knife in-between the membrane to release the orange flesh. Try to catch the orange juices, swipe them into a bowl. Chop the orange up into small pieces.

3. Because this relish has fruity notes and also honey, it is important to season it properly, to push it into that savoury realm. Pour the vinegar into the bowl with the orange juice, then add the salt and honey, whisk well – the vinegar will help dissolve both salt and honey (this is a good tip for any dressing making, first dissolve salt tin the vinegar, then whisk in the oil).

4. Taste the dressing, it should be almost on the verge of being over-seasoned with a good sour-sweet balance, adjust it to your palate but remember it will be diluted by the orange.

5. Stir the fennel, orange, shallot and olives through the dressing and add the herbs before serving.

Charred cabbage with almond cream and spiced salt

This is a simple but also a very impressive and delicious dish that has a place both on a weekday and a dinner party table.

As always, I encourage to use and substitute whatever you can easily find and that makes sense to you. The cabbage can be white cabbage, or even purple cabbage. The sauce and salt would also work well with roast cauliflower, swede, pumpkin or carrots. You might just need to adjust roasting times. I use walnuts and almonds a lot, but cashews or pecans would work very well too, just make sure, especially if you use walnuts, that the nuts are fresh and tasty – there is nothing worse than a slightly rancid nut. If you don’t have caraway seeds but have and love cumin and want to go Middle Eastern rather than Eastern European, add cumin instead! Ditto the acid: pick any good tasting vinegar or citrus. You can also blitz some caramelised onions or confit garlic into the nut cream – then it will very much resemble a Georgian sauce called satsivi. Just follow the proportions and the method in the recipe as a blueprint of sorts. If you have never roasted cabbage wedges before, I cannot recommend it enough, it’s such game changer. This recipe is also accidentally vegan, but it would be also good with garlic yoghurt if you don’t fancy the nut cream.

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

1 sweetheart cabbage

3 tbsp olive or sunflower oil

For the cream:

250g nuts (I used almonds here)

70ml water

1 tbsp good vinegar or lemon

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled

For the salt:

2 tbsp Maldon salt

½ tbsp caraway seeds

½ tbsp coriander seeds

¼ tsp sumac

Method:

1. Soak the nuts in plenty of water, for at least 5 hours, or better overnight in the fridge.

2. Preheat the oven to 220C. Cut the cabbage in half through the core. Then, depending on your cabbage’s size, cut it into wedges. the thinner the wedges the quicker they will cook.

3. Put the wedges on a baking tray (line it to make cleaning easier). Drizzle the oil over the cabbage and massage it on and between the leaves. Put it in the oven and check after about 15 minutes. You may need to turn the wedges over and give them another 10-20 minutes or until the cabbages look lovely and charred.

4. Meanwhile, drain the nuts and save the nut water if there is any. Put the nuts and 70ml of (nut or regular) cold water into a blender and blitz into a smooth cream. Finely grate the garlic and add that in too along with the vinegar and a generous pinch of Maldon. Blitz again, then taste. It should be gently seasoned – remember there is spiced salt that is going on top when served. The texture should be that of a thick yoghurt.

5. For the salt, toast the caraway and coriander seeds in a pan until fragrant and bash them in a pestle and mortar along with the Maldon salt. The salt will help everything grind down easily. Stir through the sumac.

6. To serve pour the nut sauce on the bottom of a serving plate or small platter and put the cabbage on top (which by the way is good either hot or warm/room temp). Sprinkle over the spiced salt and serve alongside other dishes or a simple green salad or watercress.

Immune-boosting, fridge foraged soup

I always have bits of ginger, chilli and turmeric lurking in the fridge and in the winter months, there is always a pumpkin too. I roast it whole, either in the wood-fired oven or the regular oven until it’s soft inside. I don’t bother to peel the ginger; I want the nutrients in the skin, plus it’s undetectable. But if you want to peel yours, scraping the skin off with a teaspoon works best!

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

Vegetable offcuts including onion peel, carrot peels, celery

1 medium pumpkin or squash

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 large knob ginger

A few pieces of fresh turmeric (or 1 tsp turmeric powder)

50g pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp honey

Maldon salt

Some chilli flakes

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Rub the pumpkin with some oil and place it in the oven and cook for about an hour. When it is soft, take it out and let it cool down enough to be able to handle, then peel off the skin, cut in half and get rid of the seeds. Put the flesh into a food processor.

2. To make the stock, place your vegetable offcuts into a stock pot and add about 1L of water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 30 minutes. Switch off the heat and let it stand.

3. For the pumpkin seeds, line a tray with some foil or baking parchment. Toss the pumpkin seeds in the honey, then sprinkle over Maldon salt. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 10 minutes. Add the chilli flakes for the last 3 minutes of cooking.

4. Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil in a big pan and add the onion and a big pinch of salt, cook over a medium-low heat until soft and translucent. Grate the ginger and turmeric and add them to the onion.

5. Cook for about 5-10 minutes. Add the pumpkin flesh and some of the stock to the pan and blitz using a stick blender.

6. Serve with the sweet-salty-spicy pumpkin seeds sprinkled over the top.

Grated carrot with herbs and poppy seeds

Two things I can always find in my fridge are carrots and herbs. Sometimes the herbs are not at their best, but minced finely with some salt, they make for a good basis for a dressing. Almost any soft herbs work, and you can vary the spices and seeds that you add. Being Ukrainian, I always have an excess of poppy seeds, but sesame and nigella seeds would work really well too. This can be eaten as a salad or as a relish of sorts – think cheese or leftover roast pork or chicken stuffed into a pitta bread. It keeps very well in the fridge, becoming a pickle after 24 hours.

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

500g carrots

Sad, fridge herbs (I am using coriander, tarragon and dill)

1 small clove of garlic

1 lime, juice only

1 tbsp mild vinegar (cider works well)

Maldon salt

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Black or white pepper

Method:

1. I rarely peel carrots, but I will do here because I want to save the peels to make vegetable stock for other dishes. Grate the carrots on the rough side of the grater.

2. Roughly chop the herbs and the garlic, then sprinkle over some Maldon salt and chop through again until the herbs and the garlic are quite past-ie. Put this into a bowl.

3. Whisk in the lime juice and the vinegar and taste.

4. Toast the poppy seeds in a small frying pan. Stir the seeds through the carrot and serve.

Mushroom broth

In Ukraine, we would have some sort of broth pretty much every day. There is something so wholesome about it, especially when it involves mushrooms. One of my first food memories is my dad coming back from a long trip (probably to Germany in early 1990s), and he would come back with massive boxes of Kinder chocolate bars and a massive bag of dried ceps he would buy on the side of the road in northwestern Ukraine. Mum would immediately make broth – so dark in colour, it was almost black. The earthy aroma mingling with lots of chopped fresh dill is forever imprinted in my memory. Today, I make my own version inspired by hers. This is like a beautiful canvas – you can always add other herbs you like as well as chillies or crispy ginger and garlic, brown rice or buckwheat groats instead of the noodles; bulked up with kale orchard – so good for your health and also for the soul.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

50g dried mushrooms

2 onions

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large carrot, grated on the rough side of the grater

100g kale or other dark green leaves, finely chopped

200g buckwheat noodles

15g butter

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

A handful of fresh mushrooms

Lots of dill and parsley, finely chopped

Method

1. Put the mushrooms into a bowl and cover with 500ml of hot water, cover with a plate and leave for at least 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, peel and dice one of the onions. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and sweat the onions over a medium-low heat until soft and translucent. Add the carrot and sweat some more until starting to caramelise gently. Add the chopped kale and cook for about 3-5 minutes.

3. When the mushrooms look plump, pick them out with a slotted spoon and carefully pour the liquid into the pot with the onion and carrot, making sure to leave any grit behind. Add the rehydrated mushrooms in too, add a litre of water and one whole, peeled onion. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes.

4. I cook the noodles separately, according to the packet instructions and toss them in a tiny bit of oil once they are drained.

5. Sometimes, I also fry some mushrooms in butter to use as a topping. I roughly chop the garlic and then crush using Maldon salt and the side of a knife. Then I simply heat the butter and add the mushrooms, cook until nice and brown, then stir through the crushed garlic and cook for a minute.

6. To serve put some noodles into a bowl and top with the broth, scatter some fried garlicky mushrooms on top and finish with the herbs.

Layered Savoy cabbage ‘lasagne’

This draws inspiration from Ukrainian cabbage parcels called holubtsi. This is basically a simpler version that does not require you to form parcels. You can use barley or diced potato, but more often than not I have lots of cooked brown rice (we do a batch every Sunday to use for my son’s packed lunch and for our lunches too), so I like to use it as a stuffing. The tomato stock is lovely and if you are not vegan, it will also be lovely with a spoonful of creme fraiche stirred through it.

Ingredients

1 savoy cabbage

3 tbsp olive or sunflower oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 celery sticks, finely diced

1 large carrot, roughly grated

250g mushrooms, roughly chopped

200g leftover cooked or blanched (for 10 minutes) brown rice

100g cooked chestnuts, chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, sliced

Maldon salt

Black pepper

Method:

1. To make the savoy cabbage leaves pliable, put them into a steamer. I use a bamboo one, but you can always use a large metal colander and a lid. Separate, then steam the leaves for about 15 minutes or until soft. I tend not to cut out the stalky bit as it softens enough by the end of cooking and is pleasant to eat.

2. For the filling, heat the oil in a large, cast-iron pan and add the onions and a big pinch of Maldon. Cook for about 10 minutes over a medium-low heat, stirring often. You can add little splashes of water and deglaze the pan, if at any point it feels dry.

3. Then add the carrots and celery and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 7 minutes. Finally, stir through the chestnuts and the rice and scoop it out into a bowl. No need to clean the pan, just start layering it with the leaves.

4. Build the first layer of savoy cabbage leaves, then scoop in a third of the filling, then layer some more leaves over, then follow with the fillings again, then leaves, then filling, then leaves.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C.

6. For the tomato stock, pour the chopped tomatoes into the same bowl where the filling was. Squash them further with a potato masher. Swirl some water through the tomato tin and pour into the bowl with the tomatoes. If you want, you can also whisk in 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche into the mixture. Add the garlic and a generous pinch of salt and some pepper.

7. Pour the mixture over the cabbage lasagne, making sure that none of the garlic is right on top (where it can burn). Pop the pot into the oven and cook for about 45 mins to an hour. The tomato liquid will be reduced, and the top of the lasagne will be nicely charred.

8. Serve and enjoy with a big hunk of crusty, fresh bread.

Fermented chilli and celeriac

You can use pretty much any vegetable that’s in season, using this brine and method. A pumpkin works well, it is a bit unusual but works beautifully. To speed things along I am dicing the celeriac and also using a splash of a brine from a ripe ferment. This celeriac can be used as a little pickle, a relish or even to cook with.

Ingredients:

1 celeriac

7g Maldon salt

500ml water

1 chilli, cut in half lengthways

Method:

1. To peel the celeriac, put it on the surface flat side down and then using a knife slice the skin off. Make sure to get rid off all the skin as it harbours soil and you don’t want that in your pickle! Give the peeled celeriac a wash and then slice into thin strips and then across into small dice.

2. Heat the water with the salt to help dissolve it and then let it cool. Put the celeriac into a 1L jar and cover it with the brine, pop in the chilli. Cover with a lid.

3. Leave in your kitchen for about a week, opening the jar lid whenever you remember. The celeriac is ready whenever it becomes slightly sour – taste it. When it tastes good, put it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process.

Savoury granola

This is an incredibly addictive dish and is so versatile. I enjoy it best sprinkled it over salads, soups, stews.

Ingredients:

2 tsp sunflower seeds

2 tsp sesame seeds

2 tbsp cashew nuts

1 tbsp almonds, chopped

3 tbsp vegetable oil

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

20g piece of ginger

1 tbsp tamarind puree

1 tbsp maple syrup

Maldon salt

Method:

1. Put the sunflower seeds into a dry frying pan and toast until golden. Do the same with the sesame seeds and then the cashew nuts and the almonds. Put the nuts into a bowl.

2. Now heat the oil in the pan and add the garlic and the ginger, cook over a medium-low heat until lightly golden and aromatic. Add this, including the oil, into the nuts, add the tamarind and maple syrup and stir through properly.

3. Preheat the oven to 160C.

4. Line a baking tray with some non-stick baking parchment or foil and spread out the nut and seed mixture. Sprinkle over the salt and cook for about 8-10 minutes. You are looking to dry everything out without letting the garlic burn.

5. Remember that it may feel sticky but will dry out once left out of the oven. Keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Use on everything or as a snack.

Recipes created by Olia Hercules for Maldon Salt, part of the ‘Feel Good Food’ series running on Maldon Salt socials.

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